Cerro Gordo County Iowa
Part of the IAGenWeb Project



 The Globe-Gazette
Mason City, Cerro Gordo County, Iowa
April 13, 2013

1133rd: Losing a friend, joining a family
by Deb Nicklay

NORA SPRINGS — On Jan. 7, 2004, Sgt. Peter Bieber was writing an e-mail to his wife, Kris, at an Internet cafe on the Logistical Base Seitz, just outside of Baghdad, when he heard mortar explosions close by.

“I came outside and heard someone yell that the 1133rd was hit,” said Bieber, 41, of Nora Springs.

Upon entering their quarters, he was struck by an image that stays with him from the Iraq War: Spc. Levi Anderson with a hand injury, being helped by Sgt. First Class Tom Johanns.

“I could tell Waldo (Levi) was in shock; it struck me, these are my soldiers, my friends,” Bieber said.

It was just one of the memories that sometimes “just come on you,” he said, of the time the Iowa Army National Guard unit was stationed in Iraq, in 2003 and 2004.

Walking through quarters, he saw several soldiers with injuries until he came to his good friend, Spc. Chad Hayes.

“It was clear that he was in the worst shape,” Bieber said.

A paramedic, Bieber grabbed his medical bag and began treating his friend, with Dan Tracy and Chris Dunkelberg alongside. All, including Hayes, survived their wounds, but some remained hospitalized for weeks.

“I think about Will Egbert; his head was grazed by shrapnel ... but a quarter of an inch either way ...” his voice trailed. “It would have been much, much worse.”

He still has the blanket that lay on his bunk — ripped with small holes where shrapnel landed — on the night of the attack.

* * *

Danger was a given in Iraq, but its impact remains with Bieber, who was a driving mate of Spc. Joshua Knowles of Sheffield, who was killed a month after the attack on the base. Knowles died when a mortar round hit their transport. Bieber was thrown from the vehicle and suffered injury to his left hand.

“I remember ... driving that last mission, we had this CD player, and I put on some Patsy Cline,” Bieber said.

He was sure Knowles would give him grief for his choice in music — but was then surprised as Cline’s “Crazy” began to play.

“Josh said, ‘Do you like Patsy Cline?’ Then he got kind of mellow, and melancholy, and told me how his grandpa, Ken Cahalan, liked Patsy Cline, too. It reminded him about the fish fries the family had, all sitting around on the Fourth of July, enjoying each other’s company.”

Today, Bieber and his wife, Kris, and two sons Noah and Josh — Josh was named in honor of Knowles — are always invited to the family fish fries and are proud to be a part.

And, if he has to work during one of the gatherings — he is a Mason City firefighter — Josh’s family makes sure he gets a plate of fish.

“Michelle (Josh’s sister) has brought me plates when I couldn’t come, and sometimes I am out on a call when she comes.

“She tells the guys ‘You make sure that Peter gets this!’ ”

He laughed.

“It is always an honor to be part (of the Knowles family),” he said, more quietly.

Bieber said that as you grow older, life’s chapters are marked by dates: April 1, the death of his mother; Aug. 7, the death of his younger brother, who was killed in an ATV accident many years ago.

“And Feb. 5 — Josh,” he said, simply. “Every Feb. 5, it all comes back.”

On that anniversary, he usually goes to the Rockwell American Legion, a gathering place for many of the 1133rd, since it seems so many hail from that neck of the woods. Stories are swapped; Bieber visits his friend’s grave.

He feels blessed. Bieber, a staff sergeant, remains a member of the 1133rd. He was part of a second deployment, in 2008.

Kris will tell you he is more reflective than before he left for war.

She recalled being in San Antonio with Bieber’s dad, Jim, when Peter was flown there on medical leave after the Feb. 5 explosion.

“It was such a sense of relief for us,” Kris said.

Bieber has collected some mementoes of his travels — Iraqi flags, uniforms and medals, found discarded in buildings in and around Baghdad.

“Some day, I anticipate my boys will ask about it, and I’ll show them some of these things and tell them about it,” he said.

Bieber held a pile of letters that he had fished out of storage — all letters from Sue Bieber, his stepmother who he calls “Mom.”

“She said she never wanted there to be a mail call where I didn’t get a letter.”

He picked up one, glanced at its contents.

“She would write about what they did that day, what they were going to have for supper. Just everyday things.”

You have the feeling that the “everyday” was a balm in the faraway land.

“I’ll always be proud of what we did. I’ve been to the country to see what Saddam did.

“I listen to people complain about how government is in our lives too much — but I’ve seen the country where government really controls everything. People here really have no idea and don’t have a thing to complain about. The people we saw never had any of the freedoms that we do.”

Photograph courtesy of Globe-Gazette
Transcription by Sharon R. Becker, November of 2016



  • Return to Military Index Page

  • Return to Cerro Gordo Home Page


    © Copyright 1996-
    Cerro Gordo Co. IAGenWeb Project
    All rights Reserved.